Puerto Rican voters seemed to be on track with 97 percent of voters picking statehood in their fifth referendum held Sunday, June 11th. The catch: Only 23% of citizens voted compared to 77.5% that voted in 2012.

Failed attempts seeking statehood came in 1967, 1993, and 1998 that gave little hope to those wanting a change. In 2012, 54% of the voters rejected their current status as a U.S. commonwealth. Luis Agrait, a history professor at the University of Puerto Rico said, “one-third of all votes cast were left blank on the question of preferred alternative status.” Since these votes were nonbinding referendums, no action had to be taken, and no action was.

The recent election was just another start for statehood, but the chance of the island becoming a state is a very long shot. 500 precincts (“units” in Puerto Rico) were open for voters, but that wasn’t enough to get voters out. “Eight of the ten staying home or going to the beach instead of voting,” said Hector Ferrer, leader of Puerto Rico Popular Democratic Party.

After a million-dollar campaign of deceit and intimidation, the Puerto Rican people gave a democratic lesson to the PNP (New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico) massively rejecting their plebiscite,” Ferrer said.

Puerto Rican Governor Rosselló took the current election as a big win for the island and may now put the Tennessee plan into place where he will choose two senators and five representatives to go to Washington, D.C., to seek statehood.

Governor Rosselló released a statement, “Today, we the People of Puerto Rico, are sending a strong and clear message to the world claiming our equal rights as American citizens. We will now take these results to Washington, D.C., with the strong support of not only a duly executedelectorial exercise, but also of a contingency of national and international observers, who can attest to the tfact that the process was fair, well organized and democratic. Contingency will be giving a report to Congress and the federal Government on this historic election.”

While the results may be an indicator of what some Puerto Ricans want, statehood will not be possible without congressional action in Washington. The referendum is non-binding and Congress, currently controlled by the GOP, must approve it and it is not guaranteed while facing a debt and unemployment crisis.
So why does some Puerto Ricans want statehood? Governor Rosselló said about the statehood voters, “Today, we the People of Puerto Rico, are sending a strong and clear message to the world claming our equal rights as American citizens.” The commonwealth island is really in an economic crisis. They filed for municipal bankruptcy in May even though they lack the ability to declare bankruptcy (although legislation passed in 2016 allows the territory to seek bankruptcy relief in federal court). They have $70 billion in debt and a 45 percent poverty rate. Unemployment is climbing at 11.5%, pensions at risk and 115 public schools have closed.

Puerto Ricans understand the issues facing the island and more of them now live on the mainland United States than in Puerto Rico with fifty-eight percent that have made the move. They can move freely within the United States as they are natural-born U.S. citizens. If they are residence on the mainland they pay federal taxes and allowed to vote for the US President unlike those that live on the island.

Puerto Rico needs to focus now on what they have and how to move out of their current situation. The government has implemented the Act 20 and Act 22 in 2012 to help build a better island by bringing in companies and families to start. They also have their own constitution, their own governor, but they do not have a vote in the US Congress so the road to statehood is very steep.

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